Blended Learning in K-12/Why is Blended Learning Important?
Now that you know what blended learning is, you may be asking yourself, "Why do I need to know about blended learning? Why is it important?" Over the years, many groups of people have asked this same question. These groups have included classroom teachers and others in the field of education, but have also included people in the business field as well. Blended learning makes up the “fastest growing use of technologies in learning—much faster then the development of online courses.” (Alvarez, 2005) Because of the interest in blended learning, there have been many research studies done to find the potential strengths and weaknesses of blended learning as compared to just the traditional classroom or e-learning.
Educators seem to have the most interest in blended learning, for obvious reasons. Because of this, much of the research on blended learning has been based around classroom situations. All levels of education have been researched with blended learning, from the elementary school grades up to graduate school. Educators’ interests in blended learning is best summarized by Flavin in his E-Learning Advantages in a Tough Economy. He states:
Ironically, the notion of blending is nothing new. Good classroom teachers have always blended their methods—reading, writing, lecture, discussion, practice and projects, to name just a few, are all part of an effective blend. Blending is only a revelation for those who have been trying to do everything with just one tool—usually the computer—and ending up with less than ideal results. Understanding that using the right tool, in the right situation, for the right purpose should be a guiding design principle. (Flavin, 2001)
One clear advantage of blended learning in education is its connection with differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction involves “custom-designing instruction based on student needs.” (deGula, 2004) In differentiated instruction, educators look at students’ learning styles, interests, and abilities. Once these factors have been determined, educators decide which curriculum content, learning activities, products, and learning environments will best serve those individual students’ needs. Blended learning can fit into a number of these areas. By using blended learning, educators are definitely altering the learning environment when students work collaboratively in learning communities online, for example. Teachers could also add relevant curriculum content that would be unavailable or difficult to comprehend outside of the internet. Learning activities and products can also be changed to use technologies in a classroom that uses blended learning.
So what does the research say? In a study by Dean and associates, research showed that providing several online options in addition to traditional classroom training actually increased what students learned. (2001) Another study showed that student interaction and satisfaction improved, along with students learning more, in courses that incorporated blended learning. (DeLacey and Leonard, 2002)
Another advantage of blended learning is pacing and attendance. In most blended learning classrooms, there is the ability to study whenever the student chooses to do so. If a student is absent, she/he may view some of the missed materials at the same time that the rest of the class does, even though the student cannot be physically in the classroom. This helps students stay on track and not fall behind, which is especially helpful for students with prolonged sicknesses or injuries that prevent them from attending school. These “self-study modules” also allow learners to review certain content at any time for help in understanding a concept or to work ahead for those students who learn at a faster pace. (Alvarez, 2005)
Because of the ability of students to self-pace, there is a higher completion rate for students in blended learning classrooms than to those in strictly e-learning situations. (Flavin, 2001) This self-pacing allows for the engagement of every learner in the classroom at any given time. Students also see that the learning involved becomes a process, not individual learning events. This revelation allows for an increased application of the learning done in the classroom. (Flavin, 2001)
With the given research, it is clear that using blended learning in education improves the teaching and learning done in a given course. Educators want to teach in a way that best reaches all of their students. If blended learning accomplishes this, then more teachers will begin to use these methods. When teachers begin to explore blended learning and the resources that can be found through the internet and other technologies, they can structure their classroom in a way that best suits their teaching style and their students’ learning styles. Blended learning allows “[teachers] and [their] students to have the best of both worlds.” (Alvarez, 2005) The traditional classroom and e-learning both have advantages and disadvantages. As Alvarez states, “the online environment is not the ideal setting for all types of learning. Classrooms are not perfect either…. That’s why so many teachers and corporate trainers are concentrating their efforts on integrating internet-based technologies and classrooms to create blended learning environments. It just makes good sense.” (2005)
As stated above blended learning should provide students and teachers with the best of both worlds. I Agree that this should happen, but I am not convinced that this does happen. Teachers that have been teaching for numerous years may be stuck in their traditional teaching methods. These same teachers may not be technology literate which in turn limits what they can do with technology. Teachers must be trained and required to use some type of technology in the classroom if blended learning is going to successfully take place. The teachers may use a variety of teaching styles, but without technology the students are being cheated out of what they need to be successful in today's world. Proper teacher training is the only way teachers and students will "get the best of both worlds." Bret M. Helms
Blended learning is also of interest to corporate world. Through different studies, blended learning has been shown to be an effective tool in worker training and education. One of the best advantages of blended learning for the business world is its cost-effectiveness. When a business relies purely on instructor-led training, besides paying the cost of the trainer, there are also transportation, hotel, food, and other expenses. Blended learning helps reduce these expenditures by reducing the amount of time needed to face-to-face instruction. (Alvarez, 2005) “Effective blending lets an organization spend the dollars in the most beneficial, cost effective way.” (Flavin, 2001) A business can decide what mix of face-to-face and e-learning would best fit their learning objectives.
One study which illustrates some of the benefits of blended learning in today’s business world is the Thomson Job Impact Study. (2003) This study had 128 participants from a number of corporate and academic organizations, including Lockheed-Martin, Utah State University, National Cash Register, and the University of Limerick in Limerick, Ireland. The researchers wanted to determine if blended learning increased the overall learning in a number of areas. What they found supports the use of blended learning in the corporate world. The blended learning group “significantly” out-performed the traditional and e-learning group in spreadsheet application performance and they took less time to complete the real-world tasks than did the e-learning group. Overall, the blended learning classroom achieved a performance improvement of 30 percent. (Thomson, 2003). Given these apparent benefits, it is only natural that the business world is now also incorporating blended learning techniques into their employee training and education programs. By doing a quick internet search, a business could find a number of manuals and examples of how to incorporate blended learning strategies into their own programs. There are also companies which specialize in bringing blended learning programs into the business world.
As one can see, the benefits of using blended learning have been carefully researched. Most people would agree that these benefits support the use of blended learning in the classroom and in the business realm as well. It is up to the individual educator or business how best to use the tools of blended learning to meet their own goals and those of their students/workers. really